I had the good fortune to first move to Chicago in 1972 when the city was on the cusp of its rebirth. It was an exciting time to be a young advertising account executive in one of the world’s great cities that was about to reclaim the attention of the country as a dazzling jewel on Lake Michigan. I had moved to Chicago from Milwaukee and although the Windy City was in need of major rejuvenation, it was Oz to me! Over the next four decades Chicago would become a sterling example of how an industrial town could once again find vitality and its place in the sun as one of America’s most architecturally stunning cities. Most urban experts put Chicago in that second tier of international cities (e.g. Paris, Singapore, and Frankfort). Not bad company for this old meat-packing and manufacturing town that has managed to transform itself in the new millennium. Mayor Richard Daley has been a strong leader and his emphasis on creating a green and livable gives hope to the Clevelands and Milwaukees of this world!
Chicago has always been famous for its skyline and no small plans are in the offing. Trump’s new 1,362 foot tower is nearing completion on the Chicago River and ground was recently broken on the Chicago Spire, a 2,000 foot tall condominium tower. With 1,200 units to sell in a difficult market, it will be interesting to see if Santiago Calatrava’s tour de force will rise from Lake Shore Drive. For a wonderful tour of this spectacular tower click here: The Chicago Spire. If completed, the Spire will be the second tallest building in the world after the Burj Dubai (2,625 feet) currently under construction in Abu Dhabi.
Before I sound too much like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Chicago does have its fair quotient of the typical ills affecting large American cities: endemic poverty, racial strife, a nasty problem with police corruption, and the usual dreadful public school system. MCIC, a Chicago research and consulting organization terms 22 of the 77 recognized city neighborhoods as either “Emerging Low Income” or in the worst category “Desertification”.. swathes of despair amidst a generally improving city.
On a brighter note, the city, somewhat imperfectly, tackles its problems head on under the able and popular lead of Mayor Daley, a man that may have some flaws, but all would agree has the best interests of his beloved city at heart. Yes, I am a totally biased observer of Chicago. I have seen the city bloom before my very eyes over the last 36 years from dreary and tired to exciting and new.
City vs. Suburb
As typical of American cities in the Northeast and Midwest, the city of Chicago has dramatically lost population from the heights of its industrial heyday. Locked into a mere 224 square miles, the population has dropped from 3,620,962 in 1950 to 2,783,726 in 1990. After a rally in the 90s to 2,896,016, it is again on the decline as the Census has estimated the city’s population at 2,833,321 in 2006.
In that same period of time the population of the suburbs, with no limits to there physical growth, have increased from 1,874,402 (1950) to 6,691,996 (2006). Chicagoland’s Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical Area now stretches from Wisconsin’s Kenosha County on the North to Kankakee County in the South and well into Indiana to the Southeast.
There has been a strikingly divergence in the suburbanization among racial groups. The 2000 Census showed that Non-Hispanic Whites have suburbanized the most with 79.7% of households found beyond the city limits, whereas 63.5% of Asians, 47.5% Of Hispanics, and 37.2% of African-Americans are suburbanites.
When one looks at the city/suburb contrasts of the wealthiest households (over $200,000 mean household income), the numbers shed some light on the paucity of wealthy Blacks and Hispanics found in the suburbs. No less than 83.4% of the wealthiest category of Asian households have moved out of the city. This percentage is even greater than 79.8% the $200,000+ Non-Hispanic Whites that have left the city. Wealthy Latino (55.4%) and Black households (47.8%) are much less likely to have moved out of the city.
Racial Patterns in the Higley 1000 Neighborhoods of Chicago
There are 70 Chicago neighborhoods in the Higley 1000. Sixty-nine of these are in the suburbs as only one Block Group is found in the city in Lincoln Park. Even the core of the Gold Coast, Chicago’s most exclusive neighborhood, did not have a high enough mean household income to be included in the list. This is another case where the homogeneity of the suburbs triumphs the diversity of city life, even in the most gilded precints.
There were 45,587 households found in these most elite of suburban neighborhoods of Chicago. The racial breakdown: 93.3% Non-Hispanic White, 4.0% Asian, 1.1% Hispanic, and 0.9% African-American. Asian-Americans are heavily clustered in Oak Brook, a nouveau riche suburb in the Western suburbs of Du Page County. Oak Brook is famous for two things in Chicago: the headquarters of McDonalds and polo.
There are three main clusters of suburban wealth in the Chicago area: the North Shore, the Barrington Area, and the West Suburban area. There are separate postings on the Barrington Area and the West Suburban area of Chicago centered on Hinsdale and Oak Brook.
Two neighborhoods are found in the South Suburban area: Flossmoor Country Club and a neighborhood just South of the Prestwick Country Club in Frankfort. I have a word on the South Suburban area at the end of the West Suburban article.
As every Chicagoan knows, the North Shore of Chicago is where the true movers and shakers of suburban of power and influence reside. Sheridan Road is the gateway to a sumptuous swathe of suburbia that bursts out Chicago’s East Rodger Park neighborhood and sweeps around lakeside Calvary Cemetery into Evanston. After a couple of blocks of preliminary apartments in the Oakton neighborhood of Southern Evanston, Sheridan Road bursts into Evanston’s gorgeous 19th Century mansions that are sprinkled with just about every imaginable style of residential architecture from Victorian Gothic to Modernist. Sheridan Road proceeds 27 miles north through the suburban communities that are the epitome old Social Register families and the nouveau riche alike: Kenilworth, Winnetka, Glencoe, and Lake Forest to name a few. The parade of wealth ends abruptly just past the Shoreline Country Club in Lake Bluff in impoverished North Chicago, a largely African-American community that is home to the Great Lakes Naval Station.
The heavily wooded ravines and dramatic bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan are dotted with the mansions of Chicago’s elite. As I chronicled in my book, Power, Privilege, and Place: The Geography of the American Upper Class, Lake Forest near the northern end of Sheridan Road has the largest number of Social Register families, distantly followed by Winnetka. The Onwentsia Club in the center of Lake Forest is at the heart of North Shore society.
View Larger Map of Indian Hill Club neighborhood
The wealthiest neighborhood in Chicago is the Indian Hill Club-Woodley Road neighborhood that lies partly in Southern Winnetka and a small patch of unincorporated New Trier Township. With a mean household income of $459,070, this sylvan patch of suburban bliss is ranked 5th in the Higley 1000. Although the Woodley Road enclave is marked “Private, Residents only”, this researcher was able to make a pass through unmolested by the authorities.
Of Chicago’s 70 neighborhoods found in the Higley 1000, 39 are found on the North Shore. The racial makeup is overwhelmingly Non-Hispanic White (95.3%) and there are few neighborhoods with significant Asian populations except a couple of areas in western Northbrook near the Tri-State Tollway. Northbrook is a second tier suburb in that is has no lakefront and is generally less affluent. The neighborhoods of Stonebrook-Woodmere (12.2% Asian) is the only place on the North Shore that showed any racial diversity in the 2000 Census.
The White population of the North Shore is not technically WASP in the sense that people of English ancestry dominate. WASPs make up only 22.1% of Kenilworth’s population and as low as 10.7% of the population in heavily Jewish Glencoe. The two largest ethnic groups found on the North Shore are Irish and German. One of the reasons why one can see so many blondes driving BMWs may have something to do with the rather large numbers of people of Scandinavian and Dutch ancestry that live in the area (around 10%).
Chicago’s wealthiest suburban neighborhoods are heavily clustered on the North Shore where 39 of Chicago’s 70 Higley 1000 neighborhoods are located. The expansion of this elite slice of Chicagoland is blocked to the north by poor North Chicago and blue-collar Waukegan and has expanded to the West towards the old farming town of Barrington in southern Lake County. As is typical of the largest of American cities, there is more than one sector of high income growth and Chicago is no different. To the West there is a substantial cluster of wealthy neighborhoods centered on old money Hinsdale and nouveau riche Oak Brook. The southern suburbs have faced a decline in socio-economic status over the last 35 years as they have become increasingly African-American. It is important to remember that these neighborhoods are still beautiful, they just have not kept up with the Jones!